Watching Jesus with disciples is one of the best ways we learn to disciple others. There are a lot of healthy conversations in churches and Christian leadership about discipleship methods. What model or program works best? As we read through the Gospels, we see steps to discipleship in Jesus’ own method of discipling people. The following are insights we learn about discipleship from watching Jesus with disciples.
1. Inviting Them Along
Jesus started discipling people by inviting people to walk along with him. When some of John’s disciples began to follow after him, Jesus asked them,
“What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. (John 1:38–39)
Jesus with Disciples: “So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him.”
2. Walking Alongside Them
Then, Jesus walked with them, teaching, leading, and living the example daily. He spoke to many and performed signs proving his authority as he traveled. He called more people to follow him. He taught in large crowds and in small gatherings, in synagogues and in open spaces, all the while walking alongside his disciples and modeling what he was doing.
3. Forming a Core Team
Jesus had many who followed him and even those who ministered with him, but his core group was his team of twelve. This was an intimate group who did life with Jesus. They helped in every part of his ministry as Jesus discipled them to continue and expand the work that he was beginning.
As the work expanded, it’s no wonder that in Matthew 9 Jesus was praying for the harvest workers.
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matt. 9:37–38)
It’s also no wonder that before assembling this team, Jesus spent so much time in earnest prayer.
“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.” (Luke 6:12–13)
Jesus with Disciples: “When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.”
Jesus was identifying and sending his core team—his disciples. To them, he gave the authority to drive out demons and heal.
4. Sitting with Them
These men had been a part of Jesus’ ministry and teaching in the large group and small group setting, but a particular discipleship method stands out here. Jesus taught crowds in the apostles’ presence, but then he sat privately with them, answering their questions about his teachings and giving them greater insight. He questioned them in a model of teaching similar to the Socratic method, often empowering them to find the answer.
5. Sending them Out
He sent the disciples to the “lost sheep of Israel” without any physical provision, calling for total reliance on God to provide. Faith isn’t something we just accept. Faith grows as we exercise it by walking in dependence on God. Jesus strengthened them to face rejection and to press on and not cave to defeat. Jesus prepared them for persecution and affirmed that the Holy Spirit would defend them.
“But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matt. 10:19–20)
Jesus with Disciples: “Jesus prepared them for persecution and affirmed that the Holy Spirit would defend them.”
He removed the need for self-reliance. He advised them about family conflict and assured them that salvation awaits those who endure to the end. He offered them hope and assurance that surpasses fear of death. Jesus impressed on them that nothing that they did for his kingdom would be in vain.
“Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 10:39)
6. Celebrating with Them
After their return, we see Jesus sit with them, debrief them, and then celebrate their accomplishments. Then the cycle begins again, with him sending more people with them so they too could walk in discipleship. Jesus models for us more than just teaching, but also preparing and equipping his disciples for success in ministry. He walked them into faith.
Jesus with Disciples: “Jesus models for us more than just teaching, but also preparing and equipping his disciples for success in ministry.”
It’s important that Jesus sent his team to grow in their faith while he could guide them and celebrate their victories. If Jesus had just taught and done ministry himself, his disciples would never be equipped, nor would they have the authority to continue when he was gone. If he had only sent them after he returned to heaven, they would have no experience or testimony of their own. Instead, he sent them out while he was still on earth so he could train them through experience and celebrate their victories.
Jesus’ discipleship model wasn’t a seasonal class or even just an ongoing small group. It was a whole lifestyle of watching, listening, learning, going, doing, and reproducing. Unsurprisingly, Jesus’ method still works powerfully today.
“The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” (Luke 6:40)